Growing up, I had a horrible fascination with disease and illness; after all, I had been to Sick Kids Hospital many times in the span of a decade. Being in and around the hospital for surgery certainly left its psychological mark on me, and I was both terrified and incredibly curious about disease and its effects on the human body.
The 2011 movie Contagion had a poster line that was, I suppose, both prophetic and sensible: “Nothing spreads like fear.” The movie revolved around attempts to find the source and cure of a disease that had originated in China and it followed health officials in their race to find out more about the illness.
My favourite parts, aside from the suspenseful race to follow a virus that rapidly mutated, was the more human side of things. As the disease spread, people became fearful and distrustful of each other. Panic spread, society became more encumbered and eventually paralyzed, as the mortality rate spiked and isolation became the norm.
Of course, this was as much a movie about the disease as it was a social commentary about the fear around disease. The poster line is applicable today.
Nothing spreads like fear.
The first significant widespread disease I remember was the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, when several kids in my sixth-grade class accused me of carrying the illness because I am Mexican. They isolated themselves from me and I could only reel in confusion because of what mental equation must have taken place to associate me – a worrywart and natural germaphobe – with a flu I had no relation to, other than the nation of my heritage being where the virus originated.
But this episode in my youth taught me that the excitement or fear of a spreading disease may result in rushing to illogical conclusions and desperation. This happened minimally with Ebola, and now, as is plastered everywhere, COVID-19.
I will admit there was a subtle and possibly sick (pun-intended) interest in hearing about this new “Wuhan Virus” in China, hearing reports of new countries where the illness was popping up (including Canada). But once COVID-19 made its way into my city, my work sent us home, my university closed and the threat became a very real possibility. It seemed that in a single day, everything shut down.
While news outlets are having a field day, many people are afraid. And between the masses of people stocking up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, those who are desperately trying to fill their social media with useful information to calm fears, and those are seeking to politicize this pandemic, I asked myself, what is helping me to navigate these rather alarming times?
Two things: common sense and hope.
Common sense being what is in my control practically; that I will play my part in both my own personal health, and mitigate the risk to those around me. This means listening to health officials in their response to COVID-19, as well as basic hygiene and rules of cleanliness. The goal in this is to play my part in response to this pandemic. This also means rejecting any inclination to illogical fear and fear-based action, grounded in the reality of what is actually unfolding in the wake of COVID-19.
Hope, and particularly Christian hope, means trusting that good may come from that which is out of my control. Entrusting that God will give perseverance to those suffering with illness, safety to those at risk, consolation to those grieving in the wake of loss, and the gift of wisdom for those doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19. Hope means reminding myself that God desires good, and I can be strong and courageous through Him, even as my life as a student and worker shuts down.
This illness will pass. And this troubling time will pass.
“Nothing spreads like fear,” but nothing stops fear like hope.
Now is not the time for panic, nor fear. Now is the time to be responsible, and conscientious, armed with common sense and hope. Let hope be the only thing we spread in the wake of this time of disease and fear.
“Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9